After more than a week of vitriolic stump speeches, “Super PAC”-funded attack ads and televised debates, voters in Florida are finally casting ballots in the state’s Republican primary. Mitt Romney is widely expected to take the day, heading into the vote with polls showing a double-digit lead over his chief rival, the fiery Newt Gingrich.
But that doesn’t mean Gingrich, the unexpected winner of the South Carolina primary earlier in January, is backing down. Speaking at a Baptist church in the city of Lutz, the former House speaker said his party “will not nominate a pro-abortion, pro-gun control, pro-tax increase moderate from Massachusetts,” predicting instead that “this is going to be a straight out contest for the next four or five months.”
That may indeed be the case, thanks in no small part to new rules governing Republican primaries this year. In order to win the nomination, a candidate needs support from 1,144 delegates at the Republican convention later this year. But, for the first time, Republican primary votes held before April aren’t operating on a winner-take-all basis. Instead, losing candidates can take a percentage of a state’s delegates. As the New York Times wrote Tuesday, “under that system, finishing second can be nearly as fruitful as winning.”
That means Gingrich, who is vying for support from the Tea Party and Christian evangelical wing of the party, may well be able to have enough support to take the Republican fight all the way to the convention floor.